Health and Science Writing-Maymester
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Instructor: Sheila Tefft
26 May 2015
Reframing Our Views about Biotechnology through Bioethics
The media often sensationalizes biotechnology, conjuring depictions of mad scientists who create devastation in the name of progress. Though such ideas belong in the realms of science fiction than reality, biotechnology nevertheless carries risks and potential consequences. Thankfully bioethics scrutinizes the nuances of such new technologies.
The B.E.I.N.G.S (Biotechnology and the Ethical Imagination: A Global Summit) conference showcased the challenges and ethical concerns biotechnology will face. Biotechnology is the technological manipulation of organisms and its life systems. Gene therapy, pharmaceuticals, and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) can cure previously incurable diseases like cystic fibrosis and even solve the world’s malnutrition problems.
Despite this power, the scientific community lacks channels for researchers to discuss the impact of new biotechnologies. The lack of a “global forum,” as explained by Professor Ruha Benjamin, threatens both the newly risen technology and the people it will impact. Scientists and engineers must collaborate together to set goals and common interests. Biotechnology encases multiple scientific fields. Therefore requiring a team of experts in all fields to assess its benefits and dangers. It has the potential to influence human health, culture, behaviors, and society itself.
Biotechnology can be both a therapy and an enhancement. The same technology used to prevent certain genetic diseases may also be applied to select for desirable traits in children. Biotechnology, in other words, is a double-edge sword when the technology is used for misguided goals.
Benjamin exposes the short-term fixes of biotechnology. Often we use “technological fixes for social crises.” In one scenario, biotechnology could be utilized to construct and create desirable traits in human children. Such practices may lead to “discriminatory design” in science.
Benjamin challenged all attendees of the conference to not ask what problems biotechnology can fix, but why the problem existed in the first place. Human traits and behaviors are influenced through the environment. Social factors like class, healthcare, education, and other lack of opportunities contribute to most of the society’s problems today.
Without critical examinations of the cultural and social causes, biotechnology will inevitably regurgitate social issues and inequalities rather than solving them. Discriminatory design is insidious, easily overlooked by scientists and consumers alike.
An example of discriminatory design in science is the study of genetics influence on violence. The danger in this school of thought is the well-intention nature of the study. Although researchers believe they are solving the problem by looking into a person’s genome, they fail to look outside for external influences. A type of genetic profiling is thus created, in which an individual is presumed to be already guilty.
Consumers of biotechnologies habitually believe they are making informed, rational decisions. Yet, consumers still lack an understanding of the choices they make. “Safe” procedures are mistaken as fool-proof treatments while ignoring the risks and consequences it has. Instead of examining the reasons why they pursue such biotechnological procedures to augment themselves, they misguidedly reinforce the belief that certain desirable traits or procedures are needed. Humans are the ones who create their own environment. Instead of changing the environment and conditions that causes social problems, many choose to forcibly adapt to the environment they created.
Biotechnology has the potential to heal and injure people. When used correctly, biotechnology will improve the lives of all and help with mankind’s development. In this regard bioethics stands as a vanguard for biotechnology, helping to guide it to its intended goals.
Blog 2: BEINGS Biotechnology Conference
Creativity and imagination are the driving forces behind biotechnology. They unleash the mind to dream of new technological innovations that can benefit the world. However, our biotechnological dreams may become too big to control if we don’t find better ways to systemize our new technologies and ensure their purposes are just.
The 2015 BEINGS Conference discussed ways to ensure new biotechnological developments will be used to best benefit mankind and promote social equality. The conference hailed delegates from over 200 countries to help resolve pressing issues ranging from the social and cultural impacts on the use of biotechnology to determining ethicalities of the technologies. These resolutions will set standards for future advancements to come.
Restricting the creativity behind biotechnology to the wealthy and qualified is unfair, and the gap between the poor and the wealthy is deepening. Because creative decisions are often left to the wealthy, the middle and lower classes need a voice to represent their desires and concerns. This solution will mediate public fears of social injustice and will give the public a creative voice in the decision-making process.
Dr. Ruha Benjamin of Princeton University addressed social alienation head on as she argued how fallacies can corrupt the moral imagination, which in turn corrupts our morale as a society. We must address pre-existing forms of alienation, such as disability, before we can map out better ways to incorporate social diversity within the system. Training society to accept and embrace human diversity can help curb unnecessary cosmetic procedures utilizing these biotechnologies and reduce the possibilities of social alienation and injustice.
Delegates from the conference agreed that biotechnology is designed to contribute to human flourishing and help our human environments to thrive. Humans flourish when they contribute to society and are happy about their contributions, thus uniting the community. This idea is key in persuading the public in favor of the use new biotechnologies because it reassures them that policymakers have the public’s best interest at heart.
Biotechnology combines biology and technology to create products that benefit biological systems based on their needs. For example, organisms with altered DNA sequences are known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and grow in ways that best suit the demand of local communities. For instance, fruits like oranges and watermelons are genetically modified to grow without seeds, making them safer for young children to eat, regardless of socioeconomic or health status.
Debates rise with tension over who gets priority to dictate how new technologies will be used, what the best intended use for the technologies is, and whether the procedures utilizing the technologies are reasonable. Within the creative mind, possibilities are endless. However, just as positive and innocent imaginations exist, negative and deceitful imaginations also exist.
Some believe stem cell research violates religious law and morals because it has been propagated as “murder”. However, if they see stems cells can be used to save lives, they may reconsider. Dr. Arthur Caplan, a renowned expert in the field, comments that half the battle is convincing the public to see past religious boundaries and comprehend why these developments are necessary.
Caplan also states that showing equality within the medical system will raise public support because it allows everyone to share similar health care opportunities regardless of race, gender, social class, or culture. For example, treatment options for a couple with no insurance are completely different from that of a couple with insurance. The public must be convinced that politicians and health administrators will enforce standards that ensure everyone the same access to new advancements and treatment options.
No conclusive decisions have been made about who determines what is “healthy creativity” and what is not, nor about how equally the public’s opinion will weigh with that of policy-makers. The BEINGS 2015 Conference is the beginning milestone to achieving distributive justice within biotechnology; however creative power and public benefit must be primary factors of the process in order to better control biotechnology’s progression.
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